by Mike Ludwig
21 February 2012
The White House is withholding documents
requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by an
environmental group that suspects the Obama administration of
working with Monsanto-linked lobbyists to defend the planting of
genetically engineered (GE) crops in wildlife refuges across the
The information currently being withheld includes a
portion of a
January 2011 email that a top White House policy analyst received
from a lobbyist with the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO),
which represents GE seed companies such as
Monsanto and Syngenta.
According to legal filings, the White House withheld the portion of
the email because it accidentally contained information on BIO's
lobbying strategy that, if released, would cause competitive harm to
the group and the companies it represents.
"We suspect the reason an industry lobbyist so cavalierly shared
strategy is that the White House is part of that strategy," stated
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) staff
counsel Kathryn Douglass, who is arguing the email should be a
"The White House's legal posture is as credible as
claiming Coca Cola's secret formula was 'inadvertently' left in a
duffel bag at the bus station."
PEER released a number of internal emails revealing that
Peter Schmeissner, a senior science policy analyst and member of the
White House's biotechnology working group, had corresponded with the
BIO lobbyist about a legal challenge filed by PEER and its allies.
PEER lawsuit had successfully halted GE crop plantings in
wildlife refuges in northeastern states, and the group continues to
challenge planned plantings in other regions across the country.
In the emails obtained by PEER, longtime biotech lobbyist Adrianne
asks Schmeissner if the "interagency working group" is
addressing the PEER's legal challenges.
Massey also forwarded
environmental assessments of proposed GE crop plots at wildlife
refuges in other regions of the country. These assessments could
protect future GE crop plots in refuges from legal challenges.
The emails prompted PEER to
request further information under FOIA
on the interagency group, known as the White House Agricultural
Biotechnology Working Group.
According to PEER, the quiet and
informal group includes top-level officials from almost every agency
Obama administration involved in agriculture and trade,
PEER is currently suing the White House for information withheld
from the FOIA request, including the Massey email and the working
group's schedule, agenda items and work related to GE crops.
An affidavit filed by a BIO attorney claims the portion of the
Massey email withheld from PEER contains industry trade secrets that
were "mistakenly" forwarded to Schmeissner and, if released, would
cause competitive harm to companies BIO represents:
"BIO operates in an advocacy environment in which there are many
organizations that oppose the use of biotechnology, particularly in
the agricultural arena, and that seek to persuade federal, state and
local agencies to restrict the technology's use.
If this information
were released, competitors could imitate or seek to counteract BIO's
strategy and further their own contrary agendas at the expense of
BIO and its members."
In its own legal filings, the White House claims it rightfully
withheld information under existing disclosure law.
PEER Director Jeff Ruch told Truthout that he suspects the Massey
email details a effort by BIO lobbyists to have the White House
ensure that environmental assessments of GE crops on wildlife
refuges are strong enough to protect the projects from further legal
Challenging these legally mandated assessments is a
tactic often used by environmental groups like PEER to tie up
controversial projects in court.
GE Crops in Refuges
Deborah Rocque, a US Fish and Wildlife official overseeing the
wildlife refuge system, told Truthout in 2011 that the agency has
allowed farming on refuges for years as part of habitat restoration
planting herbicide-resistant GE crops would
allow conservationists to establish ground cover while killing
unwanted weeds with herbicides.
PEER, however, claims the Obama administration is supporting the GE
plots in wildlife refuges as part of an effort to boost exports.
Several US trade partners, especially in Europe, are skeptical about
GE crops, and some countries have banned certain GE seeds and
PEER contends that the White House working group's
involvement indicates high-level interest in showing trade partners
that the US government considers GE crops to be so environmentally
safe that Americans plant them in wildlife reserves.
The US has also
has put heavy diplomatic pressure in recent years on
countries such as France and Spain to accept exports and GE crop
technology, as revealed by WikiLeaks and several Truthout reports.
PEER filed its first legal challenge after being contacted by Fish
and Wildlife biologists who opposed growing GE crops in wildlife
refuges. PEER later obtained an internal email among Fish and
Wildlife officials that the group believes is evidence that USDA
Secretary Tom Vilsack has put pressure on Fish and Wildlife to
support GE agriculture.
In the January 14 email, Interior Department Deputy Secretary David
told top Interior Department and Fish and Wildlife officials
that Vilsack is,
"somewhat exercised that the Administration is not
being consistent in supporting genetically engineered crops."
Rocque told Truthout that she was unaware of any internal pressure
from higher-ups in the Obama administration.
White House Refuses to Reveal...
Ties With Monsanto
23 February, 2012
Volunteer reapers ("Faucheurs volontaires"), beekeepers and anti-GMO
put a placard in front of the Regional Direction of
on February 21, 2012 in Toulouse
(AFP Photo / Remy
Despite requests made under the Freedom of Information Act for
correspondence out of the White House, the
refusing to comply with calls to disclose discussions with
The US-based non-profit group Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility (PEER) is demanding that the White House comply with
a FOIA request for information that might link the Obama
administration with lobbyists tied to the Monsanto corporation.
Monsanto, an agricultural biotech company that rakes in billions
each year, has become the enemy of independent farmers in recent
years after the corporation has sued hundreds of small-time growers
and, in many cases, purchased farms that are unable to compete in a
court of law.
As Monsanto’s profits grow and the group comes close
to monopolizing the market for American agriculture, the company has
at the same time thrived due its use of controversial
Three-hundred thousands organic farmers across America are currently
take Monsanto to court to keep the corporation from
continuing its war on independent growers. As a case is composed,
the PEER group suspects that the White House’s refusal to comply
with the FOIA request could be because Monsanto has some powerful
friends on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Particularly, PEER is trying to pry correspondence that came into
the inbox of a White House policy analyst from a lobbyist with the
Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), which represents Monsanto
and other manufacturers of genetically-engineered seeds.
House says that disclosing the full details of the email could give
competing companies an advantage as lobbying secrets are unearthed
for the world, but PEER thinks the truth is much worse than that.
"We suspect the reason an industry lobbyist so cavalierly shared
strategy is that the White House is part of that strategy," PEER
staff counsel Kathryn Douglass tells the Truthout website.
White House's legal posture is as credible as claiming Coca Cola's
secret formula was 'inadvertently' left in a duffel bag at the bus
Michael Taylor, a former attorney for the US Department of
Agriculture and lobbyist for Monsanto, was recently appointed to a
federal role as the deputy commissioner for foods at the United
States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Since then, the FDA shot
down requests from consumer protection groups to label genetically
modified products as such. With a White House-Monsanto connection
already established with the appointment of Taylor, PEER and others
are interested in what other ties could exist between the two.
The inquiry from PEER stems from an earlier email obtained in which
biotech lobbyist Adrianne Massey confronts a White House official
with regards to if and how the administration is dealing with a
lawsuit PEER had filed. In that instance, PEER had fought and won to
keep genetically-engineered crops from being planted in wildlife
PEER is now suing the White House for the rest of that
correspondence and other related emails.